The Distillation of Gin at Roundhouse Spirits
Ted Palmer of Roundhouse Spirits with a freshly cleaned still
When we first entered the distillery at Roundhouse Spirits in Boulder, Colorado, we knew we’d found the perfect fit. With its open space, foosball table and walls of chalkboard paint, it mirrored our downtown Manhattan office here on West Broadway. A natural distiller who was introduced to distillation by his grandfather at the age of ten, Ted Palmer wasn’t swayed by the effects of spirits but rather by the science behind the process. “He made cornmeal whiskey and sometimes he would malt corn on the back porch,” said Ted of his grandfather who resided in Denver. And so, when Ted was serving in the Persian Gulf aboard a mine sweeper in the navy, it was only natural that he made “bilge wine” to enliven his fellow mates.
Following his military service with a diploma in brewing sciences from Chicago’s Siebel Institute of Technology in 1994, Palmer went on to work as Head Brewer at Pyramid Brewing in Seattle and as Brewmaster at Bear Creek Brewing in Redmond, Washington, and as Distiller at the Santa Monica Distillery (since closed) in California. Returning to his native Colorado to join Roundhouse Spirits in 2009, Ted said, “My background as a brewer lends well to adding flavors and balance.”
Founded in 2007, Roundhouse Spirits was the 6th licensed distillery in the state. “Colorado is a hotbed for the micro distilling movement,” says Scott Rosenbaum, our Spirits Strategist. “There’s so much happening and it’s all so exciting that any craft portfolio that fails to represent it is simply incomplete. I feel Roundhouse best embodies the commitment to innovation and thoughtful production that characterizes the state’s burgeoning industry.”
Organic botanicals, photo by James Moro
Employing a recipe that’s “based on all of the world’s styles of gin,” Ted says, “I wanted to make a melting pot gin that took the best parts of each style”, and so he uses one 130-gallon and one 20-gallon Spanish, alembic copper pot stills “because of the flavor they allow”. After traveling to the Netherlands to research gin botanicals and production, Ted spent three months to perfect his recipe, using eleven organic botanicals. “Organic botanicals are important because of the ‘gin hangover’, which is caused not by drinking too much gin, but from low quality pesticide drenched botanicals,” said Ted. And while he adds that “there is a big fight going on in the distilling scene about what New Western means” in terms of styles of gin, “New Western means to me that the gin is as low as you can go with the juniper legally so the other ingredients have a say in the flavor.”
In addition to their Gin, Roundhouse also crafts a Barrel Aged Gin that is matured in 15-gallon, new American oak barrels with #2 or #3 char. And while there is no fermentation, because Ted works with a neutral grain spirit that’s made from 100% corn, both gins see a 24-hour maceration, with organic, hand-ground botanicals that consist of: juniper berry, coriander, angelica root, orris root, orange peel, meyer lemon peel, Chinese star anise, sencha green tea, lavender, hibiscus petals and chamomile blossoms, which is followed by distillation.
While conducting his research in Holland, Ted said that he “absolutely loved the Oude gins, which are barrel aged.” At Roundhouse, “The age is determined by the barrels; only new, small barrels are used at the moment and these barrels will age the spirits to perfection in less than a year. I use only Missouri American White Oak for my barrels,” he added, “as it has a smoother and sweeter taste compared to other southern oaks.”
Roundhouse Spirits, photo by James Moro
With each batch consisting of only 45-gallons from the still, Roundhouse is indeed a craft distiller. When the cost of licensing came down to about $1,000 a year, as opposed to $50,000 a year prior to 2002, the craft distilling movement exploded. And while there are currently at least 36 licensed distillers in Colorado alone, and over 300 nation wide, Roundhouse with its team of three (Ted Palmer, as President and Distiller; Mike Belochi as Director of Sales and Marketing and Investor; and Kristine Wilkin as the Tasting Room Ambassador) is definitely a key player.
“Ted Palmer is an incredibly able distiller whose understanding of the science of making spirits is tempered with his respect for tradition,” says Scott. “He makes modern spirits with direct flame-heated alembic stills that would be recognizable to someone making gin three hundred years ago.”
Stay tuned for more later on Corretto, a coffee liqueur from Roundhouse Spirits.